A group of U.S. senators is joining the wave of LGBT rights supporters calling for an endorsement of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.
The Washington Blade received statements from the offices of 22 Democratic senators — including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — expressing support for including a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform. The Blade solicited statements from all 53 Democratic senators and will update this article as more senators respond.
The senators follow the lead of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who on Tuesday became the first U.S. senator this year to get behind the idea of including same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform. Shaheen, who’s also a co-chair of President Obama’s national campaign committee, said she backs a plank in support of marriage equality proposed by the LGBT organization Freedom to Marry.
In addition to calling for an inclusion of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, the language also backs overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and passing DOMA repeal legislation known as the Respect for Marriage Act in addition to opposing state constitutional amendments aimed at blocking gay couples from marriage rights.
The 22 senators are Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The platform committee is set to discuss and agree upon language in the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. Officials with Democratic National Committee have declined to comment on whether the platform will be “marriage-equality inclusive.“
A number of senators issued statements to the Blade saying they want marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform without offering an explicit endorsement of language as proposed by Freedom to Marry:
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)
“I support a pro-marriage equality plank. Discrimination in our marital laws or otherwise against any Coloradan or American because of sexual orientation is unacceptable. Two people who want to enter into a loving committed relationship should be afforded the same legally recognized rights and benefits I enjoys with my wife.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
“I strongly support marriage equality and efforts to make that a reality for all Americans, including adding marriage equality language to our party’s platform. I was proud to be one of the 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, and we cannot stop until we repeal this unjust law and start treating all our families with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
“Of course marriage equality should be a part of the Democratic Party platform. It should be a part of the Republican Party platform, too. Whom you love should have no bearing on your access to the equal rights due every American citizen. It is time the law recognizes what the majority of Americans already recognize is a human right: marrying the person you love. Democrats have led the way in significant marriage equality victories in the states these last few years, so for the Democratic Party to not include marriage equality in our platform now would be to miss an important opportunity to reinforce and strengthen our continued national leadership on the issue.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
“As the author of the bill to repeal DOMA and one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, I strongly believe marriage equality should be part of the Democratic platform.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
“Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time, and the Democratic Party must address this issue in its platform. The New Jersey legislature bravely passed legislation to provide marriage equality in our state, and I have co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to repeal DOMA. We will continue this fight until same-sex couples have the right to marry and every family in our country is provided the same legal protections.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
“Fundamentally, I do not view this as an issue of special rights, but simply one of equal rights. No American should have to wait outside a hospital room while their loved one suffers inside. No American should lose their inheritance simply because the federal government does not recognize the couple’s marriage. No child should feel that their parents are somehow less equal under the law than their best friend’s parents. This kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated in our society as a matter of law. Our world is changing and our society must change with them. I fully support making marriage equality a fundamental piece of the Democratic Party platform.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
“As you may know, Maryland recently passed legislation legalizing same sex marriage. Consistent with that, I would support the inclusion of language in the Democratic platform that calls for the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. I would also support language stating clearly that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by our Constitution.” (Rachel MacKnight, a Mikulski spokesperson, clarified her boss wants the inclusion of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
“Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America and no group should be deprived it. Marriage equality is no different and it’s time for our nation to recognize that.” (Mike Morrey, a Schumer spokesperson, confirmed the senator wants same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform.)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
“As a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, and a longtime believer in allowing all people the freedom to marry the one they love, I encourage the Democratic Party to stand together with those who want equality in marriage so they don’t have to face this battle alone.”
Other senators — including two where same-sex marriage was recently signed into law — went further and sent statements saying they back language as proposed by Freedom to Marry.
Freedom to Marry’s proposed language, included as part of its “Democrats: Say I Do!” campaign that was launched Feb. 13, follows. According to the organization, more than 28,000 people have the signed online petition in support of the language.
“The Democratic Party supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
“I believe in equality for all families and think we should be looking at ways to expand civil rights, not reduce them. I’m fully supportive of the language in question.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
“Yes, I support the inclusion of such language in the Democratic Party platform. I am a cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA and I am dedicated to ensuring protections against any form of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is consistent with the Maryland legislature’s passage of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
“I think this is an historic moment for the Democratic Party in our commitment to equal opportunity and our opposition to discrimination. In its significance, it’s not unlike the floor fight Hubert Humphrey led at the Democratic convention in 1948 to make clear the Party’s commitment to civil rights for African Americans, but the difference is that back then we were a Party divided, whereas now I think it’s a mainstream Democratic position to care about these protections for gay Americans, and I’m proud of that. We’ve made big strides. We ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that put a close to an era that one day will seem as antiquated as the days before President Truman desegregated the military. When we pass the Respect for Marriage Act, so too will the era of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act be anachronistic in a country where we don’t believe there should be any second class citizens. I support marriage equality and I think Massachusetts has taught the country an important lesson about how marriage equality can work. I was pleased to see New York and Washington follow that example. No one should be worried about a party platform that celebrates those advances.” (Whitney Smith, a Kerry spokesperson, said her boss supports Freedom to Marry’s language.)
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
“Fighting against discrimination in all its forms, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, is a hallmark of our party. I support passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, and I support efforts to ensure that government does not interfere with the freedom to marry.” (Tara Andringa, a Levin spokesperson, said her boss believes the platform committee should adopt the language proposed by Freedom to Marry.)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
“I strongly support marriage equality for all Americans. It’s a question of fundamental fairness and the bedrock principle that we are all the same under the law. It should be part of the platform.” (Julie Edwards, a Merkley spokesperson, said her boss supports Freedom to Marry’s effort.)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
“As a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act and a strong believer that we should be focused on broadening the civil rights of all Americans, this is certainly language that I would support.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
“This is an issue the American people are ahead of us on. It’s about time that our big tent party make it clear in its platform that every American, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the ability to marry the person they love, to make that public promise of commitment and mutual accountability in front of their family and friends, affirming their dedication to their partner by accepting the responsibility of marriage. I believe these bonds help strengthen our society.” (Jennifer Tallheim, a Udall spokesperson, said the senator supports Freedom to Marry’s proposed plank.)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in a statement from Freedom to Marry:
“I’m proud to join Freedom to Marry’s ‘Democrats: Say, I Do’ campaign. Along with the more than 20,000 Americans who have already signed the online petition, I call on the Democratic Platform Committee to affirm the freedom to marry in our party’s national convention platform this September. Any Democratic statement of core beliefs about the importance of families must include all our families, gay and straight. Our party has a long tradition of leading the charge on important questions of justice. Now is the time for the Democratic Party to stand up for the rights of same-sex couples and their families.”
Spokespersons for Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said their bosses support this language, but didn’t provide statements attributable to their respective senators.
Similarly, Bethany Lesser, a spokesperson for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), also told the Blade her boss, the Senator, supports the plank as written by Freedom to Marry.
“As a lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, and a tireless advocate in the fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, Sen. Gillibrand is helping to lead the fight for equality in the Senate,” Lesser said. “There will be a clear contrast in this election between the two parties on issues of equality, justice and fairness.”
Kate Cyrul, a spokesperson for Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said her boss supports including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, but isn’t endorsing any specific platform language. Ed Shelleby, a spokesperson for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also said the senator support including marriage equality language in the platform.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, praised these senators for their endorsements and said his organization looks forward “to working with them and their Democratic colleagues to move forward this crucial plank.”
“These senators from across the nation all know firsthand that marriage matters to gay and lesbian couples, their kids, and their kin,” Wolfson said. “Their support shows real momentum among Democrats to make sure that the party does what the Democratic Party does at its best — fight discrimination in all its incarnations and lead the way forward toward a more perfect union.”
The offices of other senators responded to the Blade’s solicitation in other ways. David Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), noted he has taken a lead role in the effort to repeal DOMA in the Senate, but added “as far as potential platform issues are concerned, no groups have discussed ideas with him.”
Spokespersons for the offices of Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said they had no comment on including same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform. The offices of other senators didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s solicitation.
Others who’ve endorsed a marriage equality-inclusive Democratic Party platform include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Young Democrats of America Executive Director Emily Sussman, and the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Huffington Post reported this week that former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold is also supportive. On Thursday, The Advocate reported that four of Obama’s national committee co-chairs — Bennet, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) — also back including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.
The endorsement of these individuals puts them at odds with President Obama, who doesn’t support same-sex marriage, but continues to say he could evolve to support marriage equality. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Obama wants to see support for same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform.
NOTE: The article has been updated to reflect the growing number of senators who support including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.
Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42
Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.
The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”
“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.
Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.
Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”
Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”
“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”
— The Council for Global Equality (@Global_Equality) May 20, 2022
U.S. Army considers allowing LGBTQ troops to transfer from hostile states
Proposed guidance remains in draft form
A draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy.
Steve Beynon writing for Military.com reported last week the guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the Army amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army has a majority of its bases and major commands.
“Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told Military.com. “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”
This policy tweak to the existing Army regulations pertaining to compassionate reassignment would clarify the current standard rules, which are oft times fairly vague.
A source in the Army told Beynon the new guidance has not yet been fully worked out through the policy planning process or briefed to senior leaders including the Army secretary or the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The Army does not comment on leaked, draft documents,” Angel Tomko, a service spokesperson, told Military.com in an emailed statement. “AR 600-100 and 600-200 establish the criteria for which soldiers may request for a compassionate reassignment. The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”
The Crystal City-based RAND Corporation had published a study on sexual orientation, gender identity and health among active duty servicemembers in 2015 that listed approximate six percent of LGBTQ troops are gay or bisexual and one percent are trans or nonbinary.
A senior analyst for RAND told the Washington Blade on background those numbers are likely much lower than in actuality as 2015 was less than four years after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and prior to when the Trump administration enacted the trans servicemember ban in 2017, which has had a chilling effect on open service.
The Biden administration repealed the Trump ban.
Another factor is that the current 18-24 year old troops colloquially referred to as “Gen Z” are much more inclined to embrace an LGBTQ identity and that would cause the numbers to be higher than reported.
Also factored in is uncertainty in the tweaking of policy in light of the recent leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade.
According to Military.com it’s unclear whether the Army’s inclusion of pregnancy on the list would protect reproductive care for soldiers if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That language could be intended to protect pregnant service members or their families from employment or other discrimination, but could also be a means for some to argue for transfers based on broader reproductive rights.
One advocacy group pointed out that the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation will negatively impact the moral of service members:
“What we’re seeing across the board is a small group of elected officials who are trying to politicize and weaponize LGBTQ identities in despicable ways. They’re not only doing that to our youth, but the collateral damage is hurting our service members,” Jacob Thomas, communications director for Common Defense, a progressive advocacy organization, told Military.com. “[Troops] can’t be forced to live in places where they aren’t seen as fully human.”
How a pro-transgender memo sneaked through the Trump administration
2020 memo an outlier amid otherwise hostile policy
By the time the Trump administration ended, it had solidified a reputation for being hostile to transgender people — barring them from military service and reversing regulations aimed at ensuring non-discrimination protections regardless of gender identity — but one minor policy decision managed to sneak through affirming the acceptance of employees going through gender transition.
Top officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, a company support agency for the U.S. government, outlined in a memo dated June 15, 2020 the process for employees and supervisors to “navigate transitioning while employed at the DIA.” The document, which was not previously made available to the public, was obtained earlier this month by the Washington Blade through an appeal of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Transitioning in the workplace is a personal decision,” the memo says. “DIA encourages transitioning employees to openly communicate during the transitioning process; discuss plans for workplace transition with their supervisor or manager; and, as appropriate, include any steps that will prompt workplace changes (e.g., transitioning employees may begin using a different name or pronoun).”
Because the fundamental nature of a memo outlining steps to help employees in the workplace transition is contrary to the overwhelming anti-transgender outlook of the Trump administration, the DIA memo appears to have been an internal effort shielded from the White House at the time as opposed to a government-wide initiative.
The DIA guidance for transgender employees runs contrary to other sweeping Trump administration policies that sought to enable discrimination against transgender people, including the military policy former President Trump issued via Twitter in 2017 outright banning them from service “in any capacity.”
Other anti-trans actions include the Department of Health & Human Services rescinding an Obama-era regulation that barred health care providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients, including the denial of transition-related care, which was orchestrated by then-director of Office of Civil Rights Roger Severino and came just days before the DIA memo.
Both the military ban and the health care rollback have since been reversed under the Biden administration.
Another Trump-era policy at a comparable scope to the DIA memo to employees, however, was the U.S. Office of Personal Management deleting on a page on its website outlining the guidance for accommodating federal workers going through the transition process. The DIA memo, which facilitates those transitions within that one agency, contradicts the message sent by the deletion of the OPM resource.
Although two sources familiar with the document told the Washington Blade it was timed for Pride month (which would be consistent with the June publication date), it would also be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination. After all, the Bostock decision came out on the same day as the date on the DIA memo.
A defense insider familiar with the DIA memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was among those who said the memo went out in recognition of Pride month and said it was intended to ensure there was guidance for transition at the agency.
“We had a number of different individuals who were going through the transition process and management needed to understand what the policy as they dealt with the individuals who were going through transition,” the insider said.
The insider said production of the memo “wasn’t part of any government wide effort” and completely within DIA. The memo, the insider said, wasn’t creating any new policy for the agency, but “looking at existing policy, and then providing our manager and our workforce clear guidance.”
Asked whether there was any backlash to the memo, the insider said, “No, I would say absolutely not.” Once the guidance went out, the insider said, he “didn’t hear anything from outside the organization” about it.
In response to a follow-up question on whether the White House or Pentagon under Trump expressed any objections to the guidance, the insider denied that was the case: “No one said anything to me about it.”
Other highlights of the memo include options for diversity training to better understand transition-related issues; instructions to refer to employees by the name and pronoun of their choice; a reminder the Defense Intelligence Agency has no dress code, therefore employees are allowed to wear attire in the manner they choose; and a guarantee employees shall have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Employees may transition without prior coordination, the memo says, or may do so while creating a transition plan that includes the date the transition will begin, whether time off is needed and how to discuss the situation with colleagues.
“Employees can use the restroom and other facilities that best align with their gender identity and are not restricted to use of a single-user restroom,” the memo says. “Employees are not required to undergo or provide proof of any medical procedures to use restroom facilities designed for use by a specific gender.”
Additionally, the document outlines the process for administrative record updates, including making a request for a gender marker changer through human resources, updating personnel files, and changing DIA and intelligence community badges and identification cards.
A DIA spokesperson, in response to email inquiries from the Washington Blade on the document, confirmed the memo was issued to coincide with Pride month and remains in effect to this day.
“Released jointly to the DIA civilian workforce by the DIA Chief of Staff, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, and Office of Human Resources, the memo titled ‘Gender Transition in the Workplace for Civilian Employees’ serves to notify DIA civilian employees of the Agency’s position on supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) employees, including those taking steps to align themselves more fully with their gender identities,” the DIA spokesperson said. “The memo was released in June 2020 to coincide with Pride Month and serves as active guidance.”
In many cases, regulations and guidance would have to go through the White House Office of Management & Budget or Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, but not necessarily, especially an internal memo to supervisors and employees to reinforce policy that purportedly was already in place.
A Trump White House official said he was unaware of the document until the Blade brought it to his attention and said it would not have come to the White House because it was never published in the Federal Register. The Office of Management & Budget didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it ever was brought to the attention of the White House at the time of its publication in 2020.
While regulations within U.S. agencies go to the White House for review and consultations, government agencies as well as businesses often consult transgender groups for assistance in developing guidance for transitioning in the workforce, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Mara Keisling, a transgender advocate who served as executive director of the advocacy group during the Trump administration, said she was completely unaware of the memo until the Blade brought it to her attention, although DIA would have been “required by law” to have such a policy for transgender workers after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.
“We would have been happy to see it, but this was not the Trump administration doing something good,” Keisling said. “This was HR bureaucrats, I don’t mean bureaucrat in a bad way at all. This is HR bureaucrats following the law, and it clearly didn’t rise to the level of the White House.”
Keisling said she was unaware of any similar guidance for gender transition coming from a U.S. agency during the Trump administration. However, she disclosed her organization was able to work with federal workers to get “a couple of sneaky things done the White House didn’t know about” consistent with the DIA memo, although she didn’t elaborate.
“And super importantly, it’s the intelligence community and defense and intelligence, which Defense Intelligence Agency obviously is both,” Keisling said. “They have a little more autonomy than others anyway, so … if you told me there was something surprising from somewhere on a personnel issue, I would have guessed that it was somewhere in the intelligence report or Foreign Service community.”
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